Sunday, 22 February 2015

Cask beer in the 1950’s - cellars

I’ve so much half finished. I’m continually shocked when I stumble across something I’d forgotten about. Like a really detailed description of how to handle cask beer in a 1950’s brewing manual.

I scanned the relevant pages years ago. Then forgot I even owned the book. I hadn’t the slightest idea where it was. And my first search didn’t find it, either. But I’ve just found. Thankfully, it’s on the right shelf. Along with my other 20th-century British brewing and malting manuals.

I can see why I scanned these pages. It’s a wonderful description of the cellaring techniques required for cask beer. I’m sure most of it is still relevant.

We’ll start at the beginning of the chapter, with a details of cellar design:

We have already described in Chapter 2 what, in our opinion, is an ideal cellar. It is therefore fitting now to give an outline of the treatment which should be accorded to the beers stored in that cellar. Let it at once be stated that it is unsatisfactory to store both stock and running ales in the same cellar. The compromise in temperature required does not do justice to both types. If only one cellar is available, it should be partitioned off, and a portion specially reserved for each type of beer.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 242.

And there’s the first surprise. Not that Running Ales and Stock Ales required different types of cellars. But that they still had Stock Ales in 1956, when the book was published.

Here’s a great argument in favour of proper stillage:

“Whatever the class of beer, one must not forget that if the casks are allowed to rest upon the floor, the temperature of the latter, especially if cold, will be imparted to the contents of the cask. Beer may thus easily be chilled and become flat. Any dampness rots the wood of the cask, and rusts the hoops. It is therefore advisable to provide wooden trestles, in convenient lengths of from 16 to 20 feet, according to the space available, and to stack the casks upon them. Trestles may be taken outside and scrubbed whenever necessary. Plenty of wooden scotches will also be required, and they should be used liberally to hold up the casks. If the casks are left in an insecure condition, especially if stacked, one may fall off the stack when least expected, and a broken limb may be the result. If room is available, running beers required to come into rapid condition for early consumption are best left on the floor without being stacked, as they can then be rolled over two or three times a day to assist their rapid conditioning. Stock ales may be stacked, as slow maturity is the more suitable for them. Nevertheless, it may be found necessary during the very cold months to break the stack and roll the casks in order to bring on a fermentation.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 242.

I guess it pretty obvious that having wooden cask on the floor isn’t a good idea. Obviously modern metal casks aren’t going to rot through damp, but they’re going to pick up the cold even worse. How cold does cask beer have to get to become cold? Is it because secondary fermentation is messed up? Because cold beer can absorb more CO2 than warmer beer.

I should point out that this is about cellaring in the brewery rather than the pub. We’ll be getting on to the handling of casks in the pub later.

Rolling casks around to promote fermentation is pretty obvious, especially for beers being brought into condition quickly.

Now something about temperatures.

Temperature of Cellars
Correct temperatures at which cellars should be kept vary according to the class of beer to be stored in them. So far as stock ales and those required for bottling are concerned, 50º to 55º may be regarded as satisfactory. This range of temperatures neither encourages rapid conditioning, which is not desirable, nor will it altogether allow the beer to remain dormant. With running ales the problem is more difficult. Whereas a forcing temperature of 55º to 60º is necessary to encourage development of a rapid condition, if the beer is suddenly subjected to a lower temperature and is required for consumption before it has got thoroughly acclimatized, the finings may refuse to function. The result will be thick, flat, and undrinkable beer. This situation is frequently encountered in winter, when many cellars in public houses are allowed to run down to undesirably low temperatures. If it were possible to insist that all cellars in licensed houses were kept at a certain temperature, the brewer could arrange his cellar heat with ease. He could choose a temperature which would give him the most satisfactory results rather than those now frequently met with. Variations in transport would, of course, have to be allowed for. Whatever the temperature decided upon as most suitable, it must be a constant one. Nothing is more detrimental to the satisfactory condition of beer than varying heat. It must not be forgotten that dampness in one place and dryness in another contribute to variations in temperature. It is far better to have the entire cellar damp than only part of it so. Damp air is, however, not advisable since it contributes to the formation of mould spores, especially where the air is stagnant.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 242.

Having the cellar cooler for Stock Ales isn’t a surprise. Though 50º to 55º isn’t that cold. 55º to 60º sounds more like room temperature. At least back in the 1950’s. Or 1960’s. Presumably the author thinks 50º to 55º was the right temperature for a pub cellar.

You can start to sense his frustration with what happened in the pub. There’s quite a bit more of that later in the chapter. It was a recurring theme amongst brewers, annoyance at the maltreatment of their beer by incompetent or indifferent landlords. It’s one of the things that prompted brewers to switch to keg, which they hoped would be impossible for publicans to spoil.

Of course, cellars getting too cold in the winter wasn’t the only danger. Getting too warm in the summer was an even worse problem.

Mould was a bigger danger when casks were still wooden. If it got a hold in a cask, it was only good for firewood.

We’ll be looking at secondary fermentation next time. Both the good and bad kinds.


Tandleman said...

Looking forward to the next bit. Cellaring in the pub.

Ron Pattinson said...


it's fascinating stuff. That's why I scanned it in the first place.

How to handle cask beer fron racking to the glass.

Ed said...

Good find!

John Keeling said...

E J Jeffery's son Philip was a brewer at Fullers till 1997

Ron Pattinson said...


that's interesting to know.